Academic journal article Journal of the Community Development Society

Networks and Fields: Corporate Business Leader Involvement in Voluntary Organizations of a Large Nonmetropolitan City

Academic journal article Journal of the Community Development Society

Networks and Fields: Corporate Business Leader Involvement in Voluntary Organizations of a Large Nonmetropolitan City

Article excerpt


This paper examines the network structure of overlapping leadership between the corporate business sector and voluntary sector of a growing, non-metropolitan city in the Midwest. The data are from a study initially conducted in the early 1970s, and the analysis uncovers a pattern of selective, possibly strategic, involvement by corporate business leaders in the community's voluntary sector. An interactional field perspective is utilized to anticipate and interpret the findings. There are a number of community development implications of the findings and analytical approach, including support for expanded utilization of network analysis as a diagnostic tool for identifying strengths and limitations of community structures related to local capacity for community improvement activity.

Keywords: interactional fields, community power, network analysis



As communities are called upon to take greater responsibility for the well-being of local residents, community development practitioners and researchers are increasingly focusing on the relationship of community social structure to resident well-being and community capacity for action (Pigg, 1999; Bridger & Luloff, 1999; Flora, 1998; Kemmis, 1990). The following research examines the structure of two sets of community networks to assess the extent and pattern of involvement of corporate business leaders as inter-organizational leaders of one community's voluntary sector. Wilkinson's (1991) interactional field perspective is a primary theoretical lens for evaluating the underlying structures and anticipating the possible implications of the patterns of interlocking leadership within the networks. A practical goal of the research is to illustrate the use of network analysis as a community development diagnostic tool to measure and evaluate features of community social structure.


An underlying assumption of the interactional field perspective is that "the substance of community is social interaction" (Wilkinson, 1991, p. 13) and that community development is the purposeful attempt to improve local social networks to strengthen capacity for collective action. Wilkinson (1991) distinguishes between a social field, a pattern of local interaction directed toward a particular goal (such as improving the local health system) versus the community field, a generalized field of interaction that integrates and ties a community's social fields together. The existence of a community field is posited to improve the capacity of a community to mobilize resources, coordinate activities, and more effectively work toward the greater community interest (Wilkinson, 1970).

Development of the community field requires knowledge of the strengths and limitations of this field of interaction, which can guide planned efforts to develop or improve the relationships generating the field. A practical limitation to the effectiveness of community development in the interactional field tradition is an inability to represent the community field directly. In most empirical, interactional field research, the structure of the community field is inferred and measured indirectly through an index of past activeness (Zekeri et al., 1994; Lloyd & Wilkinson, 1985; Martin & Wilkinson, 1984). This approach is justified on the assumption that "a pattern of accomplishments in previous community efforts implies a network of associations among community leaders and others that can be activated to pursue particular local goals" (Martin & Wilkinson, 1984, p. 377). Sharp (2001), though, uses a more direct approach and analyzes data representing the structure of inter-organizational linkages in three rural Midwestern communities to determine the existence of a generalized field. Sharp then examines the flow of local information and resources among the diverse social fields in the course of recent actions in the communities. …

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